"MicroDwell 2014" Showcases Tiny Live-Work Spaces at Shemer Art Center in Phoenix

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Bigger doesn't always mean better.

Before your mind goes into the gutter, we're talking about housing. Tiny spaces, to be exact. "Microdwellings," to be most specific.

"MicroDwell 2014" comes to Shemer Art Center this week for a month-long hands-on look on how 600 square feet translates into a usable live-work environment. The showcase, which runs from Saturday, February 15, through Sunday, March 23, is the second installation of the event. Ten local artists, architects, and amateurs have designed and built these small studios, creating pieces that are fully functioning and aesthetically pleasing.

See also: Artel Phoenix to Return to The Clarendon Hotel in May; Installation Proposals Wanted

"MicroDwell: A Builder's Showcase of Alternative Spaces for Simple Living," debuted in late fall 2012. A handful of builders created nearly a dozen designs from repurposed materials, including siding and shipping containers. That theme continues this year, highlighting alternative techniques and environmental conscientiousness in construction. Structures are required to be self-contained, modular, and portable, and they must be smaller than 600 square feet -- the smaller the better.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, a handful of locals donned tool belts, working until late in the day on their designs. Across the neighborhood, multimillion-dollar mansions speckled Camelback Mountain, clearly visible from the street below because of their impressive square footage.

Architects Damon Wake and Hunter Floyd are two of those locals. The friends, who work at the firms of Candelaria Design and Corgan Associates, respectively, admit they are better-versed in rendering designs than brick-and-mortar construction (or, in the case of their 200-square-foot "Cinder Box," birch and burnt-wood siding).

The two took to the Internet to finance their project, using the crowdfunding website Crowdhoster to raise over $200 more than their original request of $5,000. All the money went directly into their design, a micro live-work space meant to reflect the dichotomy of desert life. The outer layers of rough, burnt wood -- done in the Japanese practice of shou sugi ban -- are reminiscent of the skin of a saguaro. Shou sugi ban is an ancient siding technique that involves torching building materials, a multi-step process of charring wood, cooling it, and finishing it with a natural oil to protect the structure from rot and the elements

The interior design is straightforward and raw, with plenty of light from the surrounding windows and light birch wood. The space includes a bookcase that functions as a ladder to a loft bed and a desk alcove for a small office. It's a tight squeeze (there isn't even a bathroom), but Floyd says it's one they hope to expand on and customize for potential buyers.

Created by Phoenician Patrick McCue, the "MicroDwell" exhibit was an initial reaction to the lack of true livable and affordable small spaces around the Valley. McCue, a firefighter and designer, earned significant street credit after his construction of Marwan Al-Sayed's design, "The House of Earth and Light," was featured in the première issue of Dwell magazine. From there, McCue dove into the world of contemporary construction, infusing recycled materials and transportable designs into his concepts -- and influencing a new crop of area architects along the way.

Starin Butler was one such student. After McCue spoke at an introduction to construction course Butler was taking at Arizona State University, Butler says she realized in order to be a well-rounded designer and architect she needed to try her hand at building from the ground up.

Her piece, designed and implemented with the help of her brother-in-law John Beaulieu and volunteers Traci Arellano and Alba Rodriguez, is a 480-square-foot studio space. The idea was influenced by the fluidity of the blurred lines between interior and outside elements, a concept she attributes to Japanese culture. The movable pieces within her creation include a large table to be used jointly inside and out, a doghouse that doubles as an end table and a mobile chest of drawers. The roof furthers the illusion of push-pull construction, with significant overhangs above the wrap-around patio, allowing for passive cooling in the summer and trapping heat during the winter.

McCue's own contribution is a take on the modern-day food trucks that have flooded the streets. Instead of a mobile vehicle, McCue is constructing a micro pop-up kitchen called the "Pizza Shovel 14." The body of the structure, a 1920s Bay-City steam shovel, was rescued from Arizona Scrap Iron last summer. Since replacing missing pieces and creating a working, portable wood oven, McCue has reduced the size of his project from 25 tons to 10, a testament to his overarching thesis that bigger isn't always better.

Other featured designs include Annette Orban's "The WinePort," a portable wine tasting room. A graphic designer inspired by the Portland Garden Cottages she discovered while living in Portland, Oregon, Orban turned to Kickstarter to fund her 200-square-foot piece. She raised $1,286 of a $5,248 goal before canceling her donation drive in late January. According to a statement on the project page, Orban plans to relaunch her fundraising campaign in February, since the initial goal was not reached.

The group show includes work by John Ball, the founder of Metropolitan Building Workshop and a Ph.D candidate in environmental design and art at ASU's Herberger Institute, and Mary McCormick, a founding partner of Designamite Inc. Two student teams will also construct designs: a 32-square-foot storage-unit studio from Modern Palette, a group of seven students from ASU's design school, and a representation from Sunnyslope High School.

Opening weekend features the pairing of microdwellings with microdrinks. Saturday promises an array of Arizona-made wines from Cellar 433, while microbreweries and food trucks will be out in full force on Sunday. Featured brews include contributions from Four Peaks, Sleep Dog, Mud Shark, and Prescott Brewing Company alongside food from Short Leash Hot Dogs and J-Licious Tasty Teazy Tacos. Admission is $5 each day, with the festivities beginning at 10 a.m.

Other event highlights include sculpture garden tours, landscape architecture vendors, and artists specializing in Micro Urban Gardening the weekend of March 1 and 2, and "Family and Pet Day" the closing weekend, March 22 and 23.

Visit the exhibition at Shemer Art Center, 5005 East Camelback Road. Hours and admission prices vary. Visit www.shemerartcenter.org or call 602-262-4727 for details.

Editor's note: This post has been modified from its original version.

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